Is a Similar Sense of Calling Required for Marriage?

Audio Transcript Will God give my future spouse a similar calling to the calling he has given me? Should we expect marriage to be a harmonizing of vocational passions? The question is from a listener named Arielle. “Hello, Pastor John! As I look forward to marriage, Lord willing, I wonder if the partner God has for me, my future husband, will have a similar calling for God’s specific purposes. For example, will he give my husband the same level of desire I have for missions? Is that what God designed for marriages to be: a union of purpose? Or is this naïve? Are marriages more likely comprised of a husband and wife who are on their own individual trajectory with unique and different callings? In your pastoral experience, how does this normally work?” Perhaps I should start with this sentence: Marriage is not fundamentally the linking of arms in the pursuit of an agreed-upon vocation. Now, here’s one of the ways to see why that is true. When you get married, you have no certainty whatsoever that the person you marry will not undergo profound changes. Your spouse may become an unbeliever in ten years. He or she may totally change his or her mind about what vocation they want to go after. They may experience deep depression. They may be in an accident and become disabled, and never be able to work a day in their life. They may turn to drink or drugs or sit in front of the TV every night or just become a lazy couch potato, doing nothing. When you get married, you take a huge risk and don’t have any way of predicting for sure how this will turn out. Commit to Your Covenant So Jesus — unlike our culture, even our church culture,… Read More

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What the Church Can Do About the Alcohol-Related Death Epidemic

The Story: America is in the middle of an alcohol-related death epidemic. And the church has something we can do to help that no other institution can. The Background: Last week the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research published a study reporting that between 1999 and 2017 the number of alcohol‐related deaths per year among people aged 16 and older doubled from 35,914 to 72,558, and the rate increased 50.9 percent from 16.9 to 25.5 per 100,000. During that period, nearly 1 million alcohol‐related deaths (944,880) were recorded on death certificates. (But because, as the researchers note, death certificates often fail to indicate the contribution of alcohol, the scope of alcohol‐related mortality is likely even higher.) In 2017 along, 2.6 percent of roughly 2.8 million deaths in the United States involved alcohol. According to the study, nearly half of alcohol‐related deaths resulted from liver disease (30.7 percent, or 22,245 deaths) or overdoses on alcohol alone or with other drugs (17.9 percent, or 12,954 deaths). Rates of alcohol‐related deaths were highest among males, people in age‐groups spanning 45 to 74 years, and among American Indians or Alaska Natives. Rates increased for all age groups except 16 to 20 and 75+ and for all racial and ethnic groups. The largest annual increase occurred among white females. Rates of acute alcohol‐related deaths also increased more for people aged 55 to 64. But rates of chronic alcohol‐related deaths, which accounted for the majority of alcohol‐related deaths, increased more for younger adults aged 25 to 34. Why It Matters: Over the past decade, American has been so distracted by the opioid crisis that we hardly noticed an even deadlier epidemic. Perhaps we pay attention to opioid-related deaths because overdoses are dramatic, while alcohol is often the cause of slower forms of dying, such as liver disease.… Read More

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Through the Word in 2020 / Jan. 16

We are reading the Bible through together this year, using the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan published by the Navigators. You can download it free of charge from: https://www.navigators.org/resource/bible-reading-plans/ Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 6:25-34; Acts 9:20-43; Psalm 16, Genesis 36. Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” is one of the most recognizable and oft-quoted passages in the Gospels. And many have focused on the last phrase, while virtually ignoring the first part. But as is true with all texts, we need to take the whole to avoid making the part into something it is not. If we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness – what things will be added to us? His Kingdom and His righteousness. Don’t think those small or inconsequential – they are the fullness of the riches He delights to bestow on us. Note: We do not seek righteousness generically, but rather HIS righteousness. remembering, that His kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness, one that bears none of the ravages of sin whatever. So in the first place, we seek His righteousness to justify us. Each must put their trust in the Gospel to begin with. The religion of the Bible is not one of trying to establish our own righteousness, but of always seeking to be sure we are trusting in HIS righteousness. But in the second case – and here is an extraordinary insight into the Christian’s primary occupation – we seek His righteousness lived out in us. Victory over sin. Living in love toward the saints that they too might find victory over sin. To live as the righteous people we have been pronounced by Him to be in justification. As strange as it sounds, Jesus is calling… Read More

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The Best Kind of Mercy Ministry

Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches Transcript The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. Tony Merida: Welcome to ”Churches Planting Churches,” a podcast on the theology and practice of church planting. I’m your host Tony Merida. There are no easy answers when it comes to how we should help the poor. Just look at how nonprofits and government organizations bound in poor communities across the world. Many of these groups do good work and we should thank God for his common grace where we see it helping to alleviate unjust suffering. But as Christians, we know that people’s deepest need transcend what can be seen. As John Piper aptly put it, Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. Therefore, we must prioritize gospel proclamation in poor communities and ongoing gospel proclamation happens best through local churches. Sadly, many poor communities lack healthy churches where this kind of gospel proclamation can happen. For us, we need to focus on planting and sustaining healthy churches in poor communities all over the world. This is no easy task. It will be costly. We’ll need God’s sovereign grace to sustain us every step of the way. Thankfully, that’s the kind of grace he delights to give. So to talk with us about planting and sustaining healthy churches in poor communities, I’m excited to have my friend Tyler St. Clair with me on the podcast today. Tyler is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Church in Detroit, Michigan. He also serves as the network lead for Church in Hard Places in Acts 29’s US Midwest network. He is married to Elita, and they have five kids. Tyler, welcome to the podcast, my brother. Tyler St. Clair: Yeah, man. What’s going on?… Read More

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The Strangest Thing Jesus Said

“Why did you not bring him?” The Pharisees were exasperated that the officers had not arrested and delivered Jesus yet. How did the officers explain their failure? “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). By the time we get to John chapter seven, Jesus had made himself a serious religious and political issue in Palestine. Everywhere he went, he created controversy. Some people said he was demonized with paranoia (John 7:20). Some seriously wondered if he might be the Prophet Moses foretold (John 7:40; Deuteronomy 18:15–18), or even the Christ (John 7:31, 41). Others said the Christ hypothesis couldn’t be true, since obviously the Christ would come from Bethlehem, and Jesus was from Galilee (John 7:42) — and of course no prophet ever came from there (John 7:52). One thing that helped fuel the rumors among the crowds was the fact that, in spite of all Jesus was saying, the Jewish leaders had not arrested him yet. Was this a signal that even they thought Jesus might be the Christ (John 7:26)? When the chief priests and Pharisees caught wind of this, they decided to snuff out that rumor by arresting him, so they sent officers to do just that (John 7:32). The officers, however, returned empty-handed. When the Jewish leaders asked them why, the officers responded, “No one ever spoke like this man.” The Enigma of History The echo of that sentence has reverberated down through history. No one ever spoke like this man. The proof of its veracity is in the pudding of the historical result: the words of Jesus have shaped the course of world history more than any other human voice. Observed as a historical phenomenon, it is the strangest thing. How did Jesus get to be the most famous man in history? Two… Read More

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Through the Word in 2020 / Jan. 15

We are reading the Bible through together this year, using the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan published by the Navigators. You can download it free of charge from: https://www.navigators.org/resource/bible-reading-plans/ Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 6:16-24; Acts 9:1-19; Psalm 15, Genesis 34-35. Psalm 15 is both delightful, and terrifying. Delightful in the picture it paints of one who would walk with God. Terrifying in how far short I fall in every respect.  Who indeed can dwell on God’s holy hill, when what it takes to qualify to do so, I’ve long since failed at? O that I would walk blamelessly. But even if I did from this moment forward, what about my past? That I would always do what is right – but I fail in that every hour. And falsehood still finds its way into my heart. I lie to myself about my own goodness; lie about others to feel better about myself; and worst of all, lie about God – failing to know the real truth of Him as fully revealed in Jesus. Still harboring the lies of Eden that God is not ALL good and has only my best interest at heart – without flaw. How I have slandered others – especially those with whom I disagree. And I’ve not always done only good to my neighbor – even my closest neighbor, my spouse, my child, my brothers and sisters in Christ. And there have surely been times when I’ve reproached my friend needlessly. I have often – and still have the tendency to be impressed and intimidated by the wicked as adding some perceived value to me if they are brilliant, talented, astute, accomplished, powerful, recognized, forceful, and attractive. And I have failed to honor those who fear the Lord regardless of their station. At times, when my promises appeared… Read More

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How Should I Parent My Non-Christian Teen?

Audio Transcript Pastor John and I recorded a handful of episodes live and in person in Nashville this summer. And we ended our live recording session with an audience question about parenting non-Christian teenagers. Here’s the question and Pastor John’s response. “We’ve got some really important, valuable emails from people in this room who are parenting non-Christian teenagers, teenagers who have not made a profession of faith. A number of questions have to do with enforcing church attendance. We heard from a woman named Angela who grew up going to Roman Catholic mass every Sunday. Her dad made her go. She started to resent Christianity. She later came to the faith, married a godly man, and is now involved in a wonderful church. But she looks back on that and wonders, as you’re parenting teens — especially in the mid- to late-teen years, and they have made no profession of faith, and don’t have any interest in the gospel or church — how much do you enforce church attendance? Where do you draw that line between expecting them to attend a church meeting on Sundays and being patient with them and not making Christianity come across as though it’s something being enforced upon them?” Parent from the Womb I can’t just jump in to 16-year-old, 17-year-old behavior without backing up a little bit. And I know that’s not the question being asked, but let me just say: We’re not God, and we do not create our teenagers completely — but partly we do. We start rearing teenagers when they’re in the womb — how we pray for them in the womb. We affect the behavior of a teenager when they’re 2 years old. I watch a lot of young parents today. They seem to believe you cannot control the behavior… Read More

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“Ball of Confusion”

“Ball of Confusion”: That was the title of a hit song by the Temptations back in 1970. And the composer had it right: “that’s what the world is today – hey hey.” Now I expect the World at large to be pretty confused. After all, if you have no true north to orient your compass by, no fixed point of reference for navigation, travel of any sort is confused randomness. And when that is the case morally and spiritually, the results are truly disastrous. Those were the thoughts I had upon reading the linked article in the Town Hall today: https://townhall.com/columnists/myrakahnadams/2020/01/12/how-to-get-closer-to-god-if-you-dont-attend-church-n2559327  “How to get close to God if you don’t attend Church.” We might as well ask: “How do you go swimming if you don’t get into the water?” For that, is actually easier than the question the article posed. Now don’t get me wrong – I understand the reality that some are infirm or otherwise prevented from attending some sort of public and gathered worship. God certainly provides grace for extraordinary circumstances. We need not try to justify neglect of Biblical norms by arguing from extreme conditions. We understand the foolishness of making such cases. But let me cite where the author of the article is coming from: “Now, let’s get real. Any talk of “God” can be threatening, especially if you are not a churchgoer — and part of a growing trend. According to the Pew Research Center, church attendance and Christianity is on the decline in the U.S — especially among the largest population group known as Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996. Alternatively, instead of participating in any traditional Judeo/Christian religion, characterizing oneself as “spiritual” is popular, non-threatening, and culturally acceptable. Subsequently, if “spiritual” means that you believe in a universal power greater than yourself — or not… Read More

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How Pastors Can Get Hurt People Back on Mission

In our church-planting journey, many of our early attenders identified themselves as “wounded” people. They stumbled through our doors like triage patients in need of intensive care. I recall one couple saying, “This is our last try at church.” It seemed like our initial season of church planting focused more on getting our small team operational than reaching out to our community. We’ve learned these tasks go hand in hand. Tending to the health of our people as we equip them for missional living is no less important than laboring to advance the gospel in our communities. This means establishing a culture where anyone can come and rest, while learning to rejoin healthy followers of Jesus sent out on mission within their networks and neighborhoods. Church planting can be more like planting a field hospital than a forward operating base. As such, we must grow in assessing the wounded, providing them care, and courageously sending them out again. Assessing the Wounded Unfortunately, there’s a temptation to tell a wounded person, “I’m sorry you had such a lousy church experience before, but rest assured, you won’t experience that here.” Such a response is prideful, and will likely harm you, and your church, as a promise you can’t keep. Addressing issues of relational brokenness with the gospel is like pouring disinfectant on an open wound—it stings like crazy but begins a healing work. Typically, you’re tending to someone who felt overlooked by an inattentive church, or who feels wounded despite having experienced the normal pangs of church community. It’s often difficult to discern one from the other. Regardless, your responsibility is the same—to tend to the wounded. Bitterness is something to watch for and assess closely. It’s a rancid infection of the soul and the church—grievous to the Holy Spirit and contrary… Read More

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The Capitalist and the Christian Hedonist: Does Scripture Support Self-Interest?

ABSTRACT: To some, capitalism and Christianity seem to have little in common: Christianity teaches selflessness and generosity; capitalism promotes self-interest and greed. The self-interest that Adam Smith proposed, however, is not the same as selfishness; in fact, in some ways it overlaps significantly with Jesus’s vision of self-love. At its best, capitalism rests on unselfish self-love, the kind that serves our neighbors’ good rather than smothering it. Of economic systems to date, capitalism may hold the most potential for human flourishing — provided it operates in a culture abounding in the biblical virtues of trust, honesty, obligation, and cooperation. For our ongoing series of feature articles for pastors, leaders, and teachers, we asked Rick Segal, vice president of advancement and distinguished lecturer of commerce and vocation at Bethlehem College & Seminary, to explore the relationship between capitalist self-interest and Christian self-love. Adam, Adam, Adam Smith,Listen what I charge you with!Didn’t you sayIn a class one dayThat selfishness was bound to pay?Of all doctrines that was the Pith.Wasn’t it, wasn’t it, wasn’t it, Smith? —Stephen Leacock1 Did Adam Smith, the eighteenth-century moral philosopher and so-called father of capitalism, share with Jesus, Moses, Paul, James, and Jonathan Edwards a reasonably similar view of an unselfish self-love? And if so, why is capitalism in our day the alleged perpetrator of such villainy and the object of a rising generation’s fiercest scorn? Adam Smith never used the word capitalism, but many regard his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, as the seminal articulation of an economic system in which private owners — rather than the state — control a nation’s trade and industry for profit. The embrace of Smith’s ideas created an unprecedented explosion in human productivity and flourishing that reverberates to this day. “Capitalism enables… Read More

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Are Hell and the Cross Overkill for Sin?

Audio Transcript Was the cross overkill for sin? It’s a question from a listener named Lisa. “Dear Pastor John, thank you for your diligence and taking the time to help people all over the world work through difficult questions! I have one. Why do we need a Savior in the first place? I consider myself to be a good person and when I look around at most people, I would say the same about them. I know I am not perfect, and I cannot hold God’s law perfectly, but I don’t consider my thoughts and actions to be so terrible that they need to be punished by death. Should I really need to die because I disobeyed my parents as a child or told a lie? I have a difficult time seeing myself and those close to me as being wicked and utterly depraved. “There is certainly great evil in the world, such as war, rape, murder, racism, oppression, etc. But the majority of the world doesn’t need God to see these things as evil or to make a positive change. I certainly don’t see how someone innocent, dying a horrible death, somehow makes my wrongs right in the sight of God. Can you help me make sense of this seemingly twisted justice and come to understand why I need Jesus?” I think Lisa speaks for millions of people who quietly don’t feel comfortable — to put it mildly — with hell or with the cross of Christ. And I would state the problem like this: Where God is small and man is big, hell will be abhorrent — indeed absurd — and the cross will be foolishness. The most telling thing about Lisa’s question is that her conception of evil can never be big enough to make sense of… Read More

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